Date: April 26, 2016
Author: Mark Hayes

Woods returns, just not to tournaments

Tiger Woods is playing golf again.

Whether that return from two back surgeries brings him back to tournament golf any time soon, however, remains unknown.

The 14-time major champion, who hasn’t played a competitive round since finishing tied for 10th in the Wyndham Championship in August, hit a ceremonial tee shot today before playing a few holes at Bluejack National Golf Club in Texas, his first step into golf architecture on American soil.

Woods played what he said were his first on-course shots in more than eight months, a casual five holes with good mate and fellow major champion Mark O'Meara.

He had a lengthy warm-up session while club members gathered around the driving range to listen to him and O'Meara tell old golf tales.

They then joined the major champions on the course, where Woods hit a range of shots from very good to decidedly average.

“I'm definitely a little tired but I feel pretty good,” Woods told ESPN afterwards.

“I know people have said I've played holes back at Medalist (Golf Club in Florida), but I haven't. This is actually the first time I've played holes since Wyndham. It's been a while.

“I'm just progressing. You saw how I was going at it today, nice and smooth. That's harder than I have been going at it the last month. Just gradually progressing. We're just trying to progress and I'm doing that.”

Woods, 40, suffered through his worst season on the US PGA Tour in 2015. He missed three cuts in major championships and four overall. That 10th-place tie at Wyndham was his best finish.

He then had two back surgeries in six weeks. When he appeared at his own tournament in the Bahamas in December, his mood appeared bleak and he spoke as if unsure he would play again.

“I would not have said I would be here like this five months ago. I wouldn't have thought I'd be able to do what I did here (today). Or play with my kids again, things of that nature.

“It's been a long road. To actually be able to play soccer with my kids again, to do something like this, to be able to live life … that's what's been nice.

“Five months ago I couldn't. To be three months out of surgery and feel like that, it was tough. I still have a long ways to go. (But) I'm on the back side. I'm getting better.”

Woods, who attended the Champions Dinner before the Masters this month, said he did not have a specific target for his tournament return and skirted reports it would be soon.

He is registered to play at the US Open in June, but that move is “simply procedural”, his agent Mark Steinberg told ESPN.

“I've got to get stronger and I've got to get faster,” said Woods, who experimented with two drivers today.

“I'm not hitting it very far right now. I still have a lot more to go in the tank as far as speed, which is great. I'm able to hit the ball as far as I am right now just cruising,. Then trying to work on new drivers at the same time – that’s kind of a test.

“I know I need to hit a bunch of drivers. But I can't hit a bunch of drivers. I'm trying to figure that out.

“I haven't set any date to when I'm playing again, which is frustrating to say. But to be honest with you, that's what I've had to do. I've had to go with that mindset. Would I have said that five months ago? No way. I couldn't imagine then feeling like I do right now. Keep improving. Keep getting better. Keep making progress. And I'm doing that.”